The Lowline

I first heard of the Lowline many years ago when Dan Barasch and James Ramsey came to talk to me about their vision. In true NY fashion, they have been plugging away at this for years and progress has been made.  The Lowline, located on the Lower East Side, plans to transform an abandoned underground trolley station into a garden and community space.

It will definitely be a one-of-a-kind underground park.  It used to be a place where kids would go and party.  I know because all of our kids have been down there.

The process to build a space around community dreams is not seamless.  You can’t get anything built like this without getting community buy-in and that means townhall meetings in schools, getting so many signatures on petitions etc.  It takes years and years and years.
Technology has finally come to constructing new spaces.  CoUrbanize is an online platform for developing real estate projects.  It is an amazing way of hearing everyone’s voice in the community and disseminating information out.  CoUrbanize is leading the charge to help build the Lowline.
People from all over the LES have been contributing ideas on the coUrbanize site, at community workshops, and most recently, via text message.  The information also continues online in three different languages.
There are Signs placed in parks that invite people to share their vision for the Lowline. Text messages post to the project page just like online comments.  People are suggesting amazing things — acoustic concerts, gardening classes, a roller derby, a salt cave… you name it.  This type of response and collaboration would never happen without technology.  Someone might yell something out at a town hall meeting but it doesn’t get captured in a place where others can comment and add to the thoughts.  This technology really creates a community around new projects because it gives every voice and a chance to speak and because of this, the Lowline is shaping up to be something special for everyone, no matter their age, background, or income.
It was founded by an MIT planning school grad, Karin Brandt.  In Karin’s experience, online participation results in richer feedback and quicker consensus.  I met Karin when she was just building her company.  As someone who has had their finger in construction, I loved what she is doing and invested early on.  I have seen this technology bring a community together over a project instead of pulling one apart.  I have also seen buildings taking heed to what the community says and get a building in the ground in much less time.  It is a win for everyone.
Take a look at the project online.  The public input process wraps up this June, and the Lowline is eyeing an opening date in 2021.

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    CoUrbanize is so cool. Super great idea.

  2. Susan Rubinsky

    There are several tools like CoUrbanize for this type of community engagement. However, they all have the same glaring weakness: the data is siloed from the core systems of the organizations that plan the project, and later, the organizations that execute on the project. I work with many municipalities and public organizations who use CoUrbanize and/or other tools like it and it is a nightmare to utilize the data later, after the community-building has ended. We need Web 3.0 now. Whomever solves the siloed data problem wins.

    1. Karin Brandt

      Hi Susan, As a city planner, I founded coUrbanize in part to solve the data problem. We see the problem where all the stickers on poster boards and meetings end up in a closet and people’s ideas are lost. The latest version of our product includes complete data reporting, sentiment analytics, and custom comment analysis through machine learning. We’re leveraging machine learning to help teams gather insights and save hours of time analyzing data. I’m happy to chat about this anytime: [email protected]

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        Oh, I understand the value. I love Co-Urbanize, actually. It’s the best of all the platforms out there that I’ve had experience with. I’m just saying I’m ready for next gen when the data seamlessly plugs into all the other systems that are running behind the scenes at government agencies. As a consultant to these agencies, I am the person who inherits the problem of how to manage all that data once the community engagement portion is completed. It’s like I have a closet full of data now, instead of a closet full of paper pieces. I am the person who ends up providing custom solutions to port data into existing systems, or — and this is typically the case due to lack of budget — let it sit in a repository somewhere where no one can really access it several years out. It’s a real pain point. When someone solves that, I will be very happy!

  3. Rebecca Karp

    Hi Gotham Gal! Thanks for this great write up on the Lowline and its use of coUrbanize – we are psyched to see such great feedback coming in via the platform. One important note – while the Lowline’s work with Karp Strategies (the consultants it has engaged for targeted engagement work) wraps up in June, public input will be ongoing. The Lowline is dedicated to continuing its work with the community through the Community Advisory Board and its Task Force, Young Ambassadors Program, and other venues.